Take an informal poll of several of your friends and ask them how they feel about visiting the dentist. Chances are very good that most of them will not rank these types of appointments very highly. If they are being honest, several will probably admit that they have not had their teeth checked in years, as is the case with millions of Americans. While some people fail to see the dentist regularly for financial or insurance reasons, an estimated five to eight percent of Americans are simply too afraid to go. Another twenty percent only visit their dentist in emergency situations.
Failing to keep up with routine checkups and tooth and gum maintenance can lead to serious, chronic problems. Painful or lost teeth are just the start of it. Once gum disease sets in, the bacteria it produces actually can spread to other parts of the body. Studies now correlate gum disease with diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Although not everyone knows about the broader dangers of tooth decay and gum disease, most people would readily agree, in principle, that good dental hygiene is an excellent idea. Why then do so many men and women fear the dentist? An estimated two-thirds of the individuals who have this phobia can directly link it to a specific bad experience in the dentist’s chair. For the rest, their extreme anxiety can be a byproduct of other issues or disorders such as substance abuse, mental illness or post-traumatic stress disorder. Ultimately, it is often the feeling of powerlessness that is the biggest contributing factor. Lying prone in a chair, often unable to speak clearly or make concerns known, can be extremely anxiety-provoking.
Fortunately, the dentistry field has become enlightened in recent years. The majority of doctors now recognize that dental phobia is not only real, but also that it can be minimized. For some patients, simply having a doctor and staff who listen to their concerns, understand how to manage pain proactively and pace the procedures to their comfort levels is sufficient to lower the level of fear. For other patients, an entire new field of dentistry has been developed specifically to soothe their trepidations and drastically reduce the possibility of pain.
What do these kinder, gentler dentists do differently? First, their facilities do not look like your traditional dentist’s office. Most of the time, care is taken to create a calming atmosphere with soothing colors and homey touches like fireplaces and fountains. Since the sounds and smells are often what triggers fear, these are often minimized with the use of noise machines, fragrant candles and air purifiers. Next, the original consultation often takes place in an office, not in the dentist’s chair. The patient’s options are carefully explained and any and all questions are welcomed. The atmosphere is cordial and low-pressure. The patient is assured that any procedure can be stopped at any time, and a “stop” signal is often arranged.
For patients whose phobias are severe, sedation dentistry can often be the only form of oral care that they can accept. People for whom the sound of the drill or the feeling of the instruments in their mouths induces severe panic can be gently sedated with anesthesia. In most cases, they will remember nothing about their procedure after it has been completed. This type of practice is especially helpful for those whose dental phobia has kept them away for years or even decades. They usually only seek treatment when their pain and fear levels are through the roof. These patients, in particular, benefit from a gentle, patient-centered, analgesic approach to treatment.
If you are one of the millions of Americans who dread and fear the dentist, take heart. The advances in modern technology, combined with a more empathetic approach toward fearful people, have changed the dentistry field radically in recent years. Don’t let your oral health continue to suffer, and don’t hesitate to let your concerns be known. Assertively state your needs from the start and you will find that today’s practitioners will give you the respect and gentle treatment you deserve.
Seven Lakes Dental in Marysville, WA is a modern dental practice that focuses on the patient’s comfort. Our service area includes Marysville, Arlington and Smokey Point, WA.